Community radio station in breach over sandwich plug in news

A community radio station which broadcast an advert for a supermarket’s new sandwich in its news bulletin has been ruled in breach of the Ofcom code.

Radio St Austell Bay in Cornwall included promotion for Morrisons’ new ‘Ham, egg and chips’ flavoured sandwich in the 11am bulletin on 12th August this year, with the newsreader saying: “Supermarket chain Morrisons is launching a new limited-edition sandwich that has all the flavours of a classic British pub favourite. Ham, egg and chips. The new edition Morrisons’ sarnie will be available to buy as part of the retailer’s £3.50 meal deal which includes a choice of any sandwich or salad, a snack and a drink for the next 12 months.”

Following a complaint to the broadcast regulator, the station confirmed to Ofcom that there was no commercial arrangement in place with Morrisons and described it as a ‘one-off incident’. The station said that the volunteer reading the news realised now that it was a ‘thoughtless lapse in judgement’, adding that they’d seen the story elsewhere, assumed it would be OK to use and so included the item in the news ‘in complete innocence, without any thought that he was wrong to’. Radio St Austell Bay also told Ofcom that it provides all volunteers with copies of Ofcom rules and reminds presenters of them.

Listen to the audio here:

In its decision, Ofcom said that audiences ‘expect broadcasters to maintain the highest standards of editorial independence, free from any suggestion of commercial influence’, and that Rule 10.3 of the Ofcom Code prohibits any commercial reference, or material that implies a commercial arrangement, in or around news bulletins.

Ofcom said: “Given the clearly promotional nature of this content, Ofcom considered that listeners were likely to have assumed a commercial arrangement was in place. We took into account the Licensee’s explanation that this had been broadcast due to a “lapse in judgement” by the presenter, and that it regularly reminds its presenters about the station’s obligation to comply with the Code. However, Ofcom’s Decision is that the material broadcast in this news bulletin implied a commercial arrangement, in breach of Rule 10.3 of the Code.”